Plug and Chug

After spending the winter in Ocala training with Tik Maynard, EN blogger and Vermont eventer Kate Rakowski has returned north and shared this update. Read Kate’s previous blog posts here

I’ve been home from Florida for about a month now. Back to teaching as a long term sub for the spring, working off Kissa’s board, a bunch of judging jobs coming up, working at the tack shop, catching up on vet appointments, dog licensing, getting the crown on the tooth that broke in November, gathering my ponies when they get loose.

Meatball and Spaghetti are not quite as cute when they went on a 3 mile walkabout but it is adorable they they got hay and water from the sheep farm up the hill. Photo by Kate Rakowski.

You know, the usual level of crazy busy. There hasn’t really been anything going on so I haven’t had many ideas of what to write. But then I read someone else’s blog about improving everything by just a little bit and making great gains in the long run. I realized that nothing going on is what’s going on. I’m making slow and not entirely steady improvements in cleaning up my house and readying it for sale. I’m starting to plug away at making some decisions about where to move and what house to buy and what to do with myself when I get there. It’s amazing how much is happening when nothing is really happening. And that’s what’s going on with Kissa, too.

She shows up to work every day and that is an incredible improvement. She’s been boarded at my friend Sue Berrill’s Greylock Farm for the month so I could have access to her indoor, a quiet road to hack out on and a transitional lifestyle between the action of Florida and the boringness of my backyard. She’s been out in two different paddocks, lived in three different stalls, been ridden in the indoor and the outdoor and hacked up the road alone and in company.

She had one day when she was tense and distracted (I took her away from her newly acquired boyfriend) but she still tried to be obedient — one day in the whole month when she wasn’t perfect! She is getting steadier in the contact without being heavy, she’s listening to my seat for both bigger and smaller trot and canter steps, she’s bending her body correctly. She jumped right around all the jumps when we got the course set up outside: super skinny, baby corner on the end, triple combination, wishing well — didn’t bat an eye. She’s being amazing. Every day, I think how close I was last fall to giving up on her, and how much I love riding her now. Don’t get me wrong, there are still tons of things to work on but I don’t mind working on things.

We went to a dressage lesson with the ever-awesome Deb Dean-Smith. There was no drama, just working on improving Kissa’s self-carriage and shifting her balance. You know, like most people expect dressage lessons to be. We went to ride at the place my mom keeps her horses. There was some tension but then she remembered her job and jumped around all my weird homemade jumps. You know, like most horses do at places they’ve been. But a year ago, I gave up going to ride there because she was so impossible when her friends were up at the barn out of sight.

My biggest focus now is to not ruin the gains we’ve made. She is being so good that I probably could ask for a whole lot more. I could ask her to lift her front end and sit more, I could jump bigger jumps, I could ride longer and harder. But it took seven years to get this pleasant horse and she damn well better be sound for another 15, so I want to make extra sure that I’m allowing her muscles time to build correctly. I want her to always like her work so I keep it short and just 1% more each day.

When I taught math, I noticed that after I taught a few new concepts there was this time period when the kids didn’t really need much instruction, they just need to process and try. That’s the appropriate use of worksheets — I mostly let them choose how much of the sheet they needed to do so it didn’t become drilling. I always referred to this kind of practice as “Plug and Chug” — keep putting the inputs in until you consistently get the right outputs out. So here’s to all of us who are doing our Plug and Chug practice until it’s time for a jump to the next plateau. And here’s to the rain stopping so venues can dry out and the short New England season can start. 

This is what happens when Meatball runs through Kissa’s stall while she’s eating dinner. Photo by Kate Rakowski.